In case you didn’t notice, the United States voted for president Monday. Six Arkansans participated. About two dozen Arkansans, plus members of the media, watched it happen.
Monday was the day that the Electoral College electors gathered across the country. In Arkansas, six longtime Republican activists met in the Old Supreme Court chamber at the Capitol to vote for Mitt Romney.
Arkansans might be surprised to learn that, on Election Day, they were not actually voting for Obama and Romney, despite what their ballots said. Instead, they were choosing between these six Republicans and the Democrats’ six, and trusting that the members of whichever group won would keep their pledges to follow the people’s will. Under the Constitution, they don’t have to.
I’ve made my thoughts known on the Electoral College in this space more than once: It should be kept but altered. Instead of six votes, Arkansas should have 60 – enough that they could be divided among the candidates based on the popular vote rather than all given to the winner no matter how close the election.
We’re told again and again – and the point was made Monday – that this process gives small states a say. Really? A candidate can win by one vote in each of the 11 largest states and not even be on the ballot in the others and still be elected president. That’s not exactly "one person, one vote." Moreover, because Arkansas is not a "battleground state," the candidates can safely ignore it, which they do. President Obama has not visited here since 2006, while Mitt Romney came once this year.
Those arguments won’t alter the status quo. Humans resist change. There have been 44 presidential administrations in American history, and four times they have not been the winner of the most popular votes. The latest was the year 2000. Each time, the Electoral College has survived.
As for the proceedings themselves, they were given the weight and dignity they deserved by Secretary of State Mark Martin, his staff, and the electors themselves. The electors were sworn in by soon-to-be Court of Appeals Judge Rhonda Wood. They were polled orally as to their selections for president and then vice president. Each clearly answered "Mitt Romney" and then "Paul Ryan" without further editorial comment. Then they made it official with a written vote. It was over in about 30 minutes.
The electors were all longtime GOP activists – state Rep. Jonathan Barnett of Siloam Springs, state Republican Party Chairman Doyle Webb, Reta Hamilton of Bella Vista, Larry Bailey of Hot Springs, Benny Speaks of Mountain Home, and Robin Lundstrum of Elm Springs.
They deserved this honor. All of them had been working to elect Republicans since the days when the party barely existed in Arkansas, which was not very long ago, and they were in a cheerful mood despite the fact that their candidate was destined to lose that day. "I’ve worked here since 1987 to do this," Hamilton said afterwards, pointing out that her party had won control of both houses in the state Legislature this year. Webb said he teared up "as you think about the Founding Fathers and the process they put in place in the Constitution, and here we are today participating in that process and carrying it forward. It’s a heavy responsibility."
A responsibility better granted to all voters rather than to six, but this is the way we’ll elect our president for the foreseeable future. It could be better. It certainly could be a lot worse.
Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His blog — Independent Arkansas — is linked at arkansasnews.com. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org